Hello Dubai: Book review
By tvnz.co.nz's Mira Bradshaw
Dubai is a city of contradictions: it is an ostentatious altar to commercialism and consumerism, but a Muslim nation. A port and international hub, but built on a desert. A city teeming with wealthy ex-pats and third world workers, but with citizenship limited to Emiratis. Dubai is a celebration of free markets in action, but an autocracy without a free press.
This juxtaposition of traditional and modern, East and West is well-embodied by the cover of Hello Dubai - which depicts a woman in a burqa using a cellphone - and pervades the book itself. Hello Dubai is the latest travel book by Joe Bennett, Kiwi journalist and travel writer, and relates his personal experiences travelling through Dubai and the wider United Arab Emirates.
Bennett's writing is compelling and easy to read with a conversational yet insightful style. Hello Dubai quickly drew me in to a foreign world, but through the eyes of a New Zealander I could relate to.
The book starts with Bennett's experiences at the golf club at Arabian Ranches, where he is staying with friends. He subsequently takes part in a risk-laden booze-smuggling expedition to stock up for a New Year's Eve party in the desert, which he attends. As Bennett's journey continues, he has a dicey encounter where he inadvertantly ends up at the border with Oman, numerous encounters with local workers and their cricket games and, most memorably, relays dazzling observations of local malls and souks.
His travels and recollections are truly varied, from interviews with prominent businessmen to chance meetings with waiters and taxi drivers. Bennett takes the time to visit museums and forts, which provide the opportunity for him to share easily-digestable information about the history of the region.
Unexpected tidbits are brought to light. Dubai is a city of men - there are few encounters with women, most of which are limited to fleeting contact with Filipino maids. There is also a lot for Kiwis to relate to - in particular unease with overt social inequality (especially around race) and a discomfort with haggling.
The main drawback is the meandering style of the book. Periods of inactivity and a tendency to get lost means that sometimes nothing of interest happens. It is an accurate reflection of the travel experience, but doesn't always make for a good read. Bennett's numerous encounters with locals (mostly migrants hoping for a better life) also grow repetitive and slightly tedious.
My preference would have been more information regarding the history of the United Arab Emirates instead. I was fascinated whenever Bennett related any historic information, but I always wanted more.
It is a shame that Bennett's focus on relating encounters with locals over Dubai's history detracts from what would otherwise have been a truly great read. An enjoyable book, but lacks consistency.
Hello Dubai: Skiing, sand and shopping in the world's weirdest city by Joe Bennett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster